The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer Information

The Ghost Writer (released as The Ghost in the United Kingdom and Ireland) is a 2010 French-German-British political thriller film directed by Roman Polanski. The film is an adaptation of the Robert Harris novel, The Ghost, with the screenplay written by Polanski and Harris. It stars Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall and Olivia Williams.

The film won numerous cinematic awards including best director at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival and 23rd European Film Awards in 2010.


An unnamed British ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) is recruited to complete the memoirs of former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). His predecessor on the project and Lang's long-term aide, Mike McAra, died in an apparent accident. The writer travels to the fictional Massachusetts village of Old Haven on Martha's Vineyard, where Lang is staying with his wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams), and a staff of servants and security personnel. The writer is checked into a small hotel. Lang's personal assistant (and mistress), Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall), forbids him to take McAra's manuscript outside, emphasizing that it is a security risk.

Shortly after the writer's arrival, Lang is accused by former Foreign Secretary Richard Rycart (Robert Pugh) of authorising the illegal seizure of suspected terrorists and handing them over for torture by the CIA, a possible war crime. Lang faces prosecution by the International Criminal Court unless he stays in the U.S. or any other country that does not recognise the court's jurisdiction. As reporters and protesters swarm the island, the writer is moved into McAra's old room at Lang's house, where personal belongings have not been cleared out yet. Lang then travels to Washington, D.C.. While clearing the room, the writer finds an envelope containing clues that suggest McAra may have stumbled upon a dark secret. Among the material is a handwritten phone number he discovers is belonging to Richard Rycart.

During a bicycle ride around the island, the writer encounters an old man (Eli Wallach) who tells him that the current couldn't have taken McAra's body from the ferry where he disappeared to the beach where it was discovered. He also reveals that a neighbour saw flashlights on the beach the night the body was discovered, but later fell off a ladder and went into a coma. The writer is later intercepted by Ruth and her security guard, who take him back to the estate. There, Ruth admits that Lang has never been very political, and until recently had always taken her advice. When the writer tells her the old man's story, she suddenly rushes out into the rainy night to "clear her head." Upon returning, she confides in the writer that Lang and McAra had argued the night before he died. She and the writer end up sleeping together.

The next morning, the writer decides he is getting too intimate with his subject and moves back to the hotel. After finding some photos of Lang's college days, the writer follows pre-programmed directions on the sat-nav of McAra's car that lead him to Belmont, at the estate of Professor Paul Emmett (Tom Wilkinson). Emmett denies anything more than a cursory acquaintance with Lang, despite the writer showing him two photographs of the pair, as well as another one on the wall of his study. When the writer tells Emmett that the sat-nav proves McAra visited him on the night he died, Emmett denies any knowledge and becomes evasive. The writer leaves Emmett's estate, and is forced to elude pursuit by a car. The writer boards the ferry, but when he sees the car that had followed him drive aboard, with two men looking for him, he flees the boat at the last moment and checks into a small motel by the ferry dock.

Not knowing whom to turn to, the writer dials the handwritten phone number of Rycart asking for help. While waiting for Rycart to pick him up at the motel, the writer does research on Emmett and links his think tank to a military contractor. He also finds leads that connect Emmett to the CIA. When Rycart arrives, he reveals that McAra gave him documents linking Lang to torture flights, and that claimed he had found something new which he wrote about in the "beginning" of the manuscript. The men cannot, however, find anything in the early pages. The writer and Rycart further discuss Emmett's relationship with Lang, with Rycart recounting how Lang's decisions uniformly benefited U.S. interests when he was Prime Minister. When the writer is summoned to accompany Lang on the return flight, he confronts Lang and accuses him of being a CIA agent recruited by Emmett. Lang derides his suggestions.

Upon alighting the aircraft, Lang is assassinated by a British anti-war protestor, who is in turn shot by Lang's bodyguards. Despite Lang's death, the writer is asked to complete the book for posthumous publication, as in light of the assassination, it will be a bestseller. During the book's launch party in London, Amelia unwittingly tells the writer that the Americans tightened access to the book, as the "beginnings" contained evidence that threatened national security. She also tells him that Emmett was Ruth's tutor when she was a Fulbright scholar in Harvard. The writer realises that the clues were hidden in the original manuscript at the beginning of each chapter, and discovers the message, "Lang's wife Ruth was recruited as a CIA agent by Professor Paul Emmett of Harvard University." Ruth shaped Lang's every political decision to benefit the U.S., under direction from the CIA.

The writer passes a note to Ruth telling of his discovery. She unfolds the note, and is devastated. When she sees the writer raising a glass, she is kept from following him by Emmett and other assistants. As the writer leaves the party he attempts to take a taxi, without success, and as he crosses the street off-camera, a car accelerates in his direction, and sound effects and flying papers indicate that he has been hit.


  • Ewan McGregor as an unnamed ghostwriter.
  • Pierce Brosnan as Adam Lang, a former British Prime Minister.
  • Olivia Williams as Ruth Lang, Lang's wife.
  • Kim Cattrall as Amelia Bly, Lang's personal assistant.
  • Timothy Hutton as Sidney Kroll, Lang's American lawyer.
  • Tom Wilkinson as Paul Emmett, a professor at Harvard Law School.
  • Jon Bernthal as Rick Ricardelli, the ghostwriter's agent.
  • James Belushi as John Maddox, American publishing firm executive
  • Robert Pugh as Richard Rycart, UN Envoy and former British foreign secretary.
  • Tim Preece as Roy, managing director of the American publishing firm's London business.
  • David Rintoul as The Stranger, a grieving father who lost his son during the War in Afghanistan.
  • Eli Wallach as The Old Man at Martha's Vineyard.

Non-fictional allusions

Pierce Brosnan plays the character of Adam Lang, who like in the novel, is a veiled portrait of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The character is linked to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the war on terror and the special relationship with the United States.

Robert Pugh, who portrayed Foreign Secretary Richard Rycart, and Mo Asumang, who played the US Secretary of State, both physically resemble their real-life counterparts, Robin Cook and Condoleezza Rice. Like the fictional Rycart, Cook had foreign policy differences with the British Prime Minister. The old man living on Martha's Vineyard is an allegorical representation of Robert McNamara.


Polanski had originally teamed with Robert Harris for a film of Harris's novel Pompeii, but the project was cancelled because of the looming actors' strike that autumn.

Polanski and Harris then turned to Harris' current bestseller, The Ghost. They co-wrote a script and in November 2007, just after the book's release, Polanski announced filming for autumn 2008. In June 2008, Nicolas Cage, Pierce Brosnan, Tilda Swinton, and Kim Cattrall were announced as the stars. Production was then postponed by a number of months, with Ewan McGregor and Olivia Williams replacing Cage and Swinton as a result.

The film finally began production in February 2009 in Germany, at the Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam. Germany stood in for London and Martha's Vineyard due to Polanski's inability to legally travel to those places, as Polanski had fled the US in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. The majority of exteriors, set on Martha's Vineyard, were shot on the island of Sylt in the North Sea, and on the ferry MS SyltExpress. The exterior set of the house where much of the film takes place, however, was built on the island of Usedom, in the Baltic Sea. Exteriors and interiors set at a publishing house in London were shot at Charlottenstrasse 47 in downtown Berlin (Mitte), while Strausberg Airport near Berlin stood in for the Vineyard airport. A few brief exterior shots for driving scenes were shot by a second unit in Massachusetts, without Polanski or the actors.

On his way to the Zurich Film Festival, Polanski was arrested by Swiss police in September 2009. Due to Polanski's arrest, post-production was briefly put on hold, but he resumed and completed work from house arrest at his Swiss villa. He was unable to participate in the film's world premiere at the Berlinale festival on February 12, 2010.


The film premiered at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival on 12 February 2010, and was widely released throughout much of Europe during the following four weeks. It went on general release in the US on 19 March 2010 and in the UK on 16 April 2010.


The film has received generally positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 84% of critics gave positive reviews based on a sample of 163 reviews with an average rating of 7.4/10. Its consensus notes that, "While it may lack the revelatory punch of Polanski's finest films, Ghost Writer benefits from stylish direction, a tense screenplay, and a strong central performance from Ewan McGregor." Another review aggregator, Metacritic, gave the film an average rating of seventy-eight percent based on twenty-eight reviews. For Andrew Sarris the film "constitutes a miracle of artistic and psychological resilience." Roger Ebert gave the film four stars and declared: "This movie is the work of a man who knows how to direct a thriller."

Journalist/blogger William Bradley has dubbed it "one of the best films I've seen in recent years" in a review for The Huffington Post that dealt with the film's artistic and political dimensions.

Writing for LAS Magazine, Theon Weber gave the film a 6.8/10 rating and called it "a thriller with topical ambitions; it takes place in a jittery, bomb-fearing Britain and America, often in airports or official buildings, where the weary rituals of security screenings refuse to let the characters or the audience relax."

However, John Rentoul from the UK's The Independent, who describes himself as an "ultra Blairite with a slavish admiration for Tony", and John Rosenthal, from the conservative Pajamas Media, both denounced the film because it was made with financial support from the German government. Rentoul also launched a scathing attack on Polanski describing the winner of Berlin's Silver Bear as "propaganda" and a "Blair hating movie". Still, what the critics did not explain was that although the production company, Elfte Babelsberg Film GmbH, received "?3.5 million from the German state, any major film production within Germany is entitled to apply for financial assistance from the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF); the grant is not required to be repaid.


See List of accolades received by The Ghost Writer for more information The movie has won numerous awards, particularly for Roman Polanski as director, and Olivia Williams as Lang's wife.

See also

  • 2010 in film
  • British films of 2010
  • List of films set in London
  • List of films set in New England
  • List of thriller films
  • Roman de Gare (France, 2006), by Claude Lelouch (who appears as Hervé Picard), also about a ghost writer.

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